For me, it’s really rare to actually be fully in the swing of a project. Most of the time I’m writing my way towards a project, or I’m trying to revise it. In both of those cases, it doesn’t make sense to set a word count goal, since I don’t really have anything yet. Word count doesn’t help me at that point. All that helps me is to sit with the project and see what simmers up.
But right now I am in the swing of things: my ‘NaNoWriMo’ novel. I’m about 43k into it (looks like it’ll finish at about 57k), and it’s going really well. Writing this book has been very different from any of my other books. In my other books, I let instinct take over and guide me. But with this one, it’s all been intellect–with every chapter I’m asking myself, “What am I trying to accomplish here? How is the character’s story arc being furthered?”
And in plenty of cases, the answer has been, “I don’t know” or “This character doesn’t have a clear arc.” And in those cases I’m often forced to go back to the drawing board and look through my plan for the book. I’m still not sure about this way of writing. It feels very unspontaneous, and maybe a bit lacking in magic.
However I do feel like I have a lot more control. I know what every scene is doing. I know why every character is in there. And I know, on both a thematic and character level, why I’m making the decisions I’m making.
In some ways it’s unsurprising that my first speculative novel in three years (this is a fantasy novel) would be the one that brought out the planner in me. In recent years, I’ve been a bit dissatisfied by speculative fiction. A lot of the narratives seem a little bit naive. They’re about heroes and strange monsters and fantastic worlds, and there’s a lot of vivid imagery and raw emotional power. But the author rarely seems to be asking, “Why?”
Why a giant cockroach monster instead of a dragon? Why an island archipelago instead of a mountain kingdom? Why this sort of magic instead of that kind? What does it all mean? Why am I telling this story? Is it just so I can make people feel the same way that Tolkien made me feel when I was twelve? Or is there something more? Do I have something new, on a thematic level, to add? Or am I just dressing up Tolkien in different clothes?
I felt like I couldn’t write a book unless I could answer some of those questions, but for a long time I didn’t really have the understanding or the tools to do that kind of analysis. Now, though, some things have finally come together for me (maybe), and work is going well.
Which brings me to the point of this post! Which is that normally I try to write for 4 hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But during four hours, I can write alot of works–6k, easily. However, since I’m writing this book so purposefully, I don’t know that it makes sense for me to push myself to write 6k words a day. I feel like towards the end, my inventiveness runs dry.
So for this book I’ve only been trying to write 3k words each day, and it’s been pretty awesome. There’s finally an incentive for me to sit down and do the work, because the faster I work, the sooner I finish. I’d forgotten the feeling of being able to bank your efficiency gains and use that time productively in other pursuits.
Oh well, this novel could still fall apart (like every other book I’ve tried to write in the last sixteen months!), but with only 15k left, I feel like that’s unlikely to happen. We will see…